What did Robert A. Heinlein know about writing anyway?
August 31, 2012
Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) knew a lot about writing. He was one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, publishing thirty-two novels and dozens of short stories. Some of my fondest childhood memories come from reading his books in the basement of our local library.
Heinlein pinned five rules for writers. These have been widely circulated over the course of the last sixty-five years, but they remain as true today as when he wrote them. The really amazing thing about his rules is their application beyond writing to all sorts of human endeavors.
Here are Heinlein’s rules:
1. You Must Write.
2. You Must Finish What Your Start.
3. You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order.
4. You Must Put Your Story on the Market.
5. You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold
Science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer in his commentary on these rules said that he believed each rule eliminates half of the writers attempting to follow them. In other words, if we took one hundred writers, half would falter at rule one, half of the remaining fifty at rule two and so forth until almost no one would be left by rule five.
The rules are simple and perverse.
1. You must write. (No excuses. Just do it.)
2. You Must Finish what you start. (This separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls. How many people do you know with unfinished manuscripts in a desk drawer? How many do you have hidden away some where out of sight?)
3. You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order. (When I first started writing, I spent years re-working the first seventy pages of several books. I finally learned that a writer has to keep going. Let whoever edits your book work it over with a red pen to their heart’s desire and pay attention to what they say. But don’t inflict those wounds on yourself.)
4. You must put your story on the market. (It is out there in the cold, cruel world that our work is tested. Many writers lack the thick skin necessary to take the plunge. Too bad, they are depriving us of some fantastic writing.)
5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold. (With digital publishing, a writer can put his work on the market by pushing a few buttons on his keyboard. But that doesn’t mean anyone has bought it. How many writers in today’s publishing arena have the wherewithal to stick to their marketing efforts until they start selling books? That’s the real rub today.)
How did you stack up? Did you stumble on one of the rules? Which one?